Grass fed. Pasture raised. Organic. Free range. Grass finished.Certified Humane.
Sound familiar? Sure, but what’s it all mean? No worries, I’m about to fill you in with this guide to choosing better meat!
First of all, why is this even important? Simply, I believe that the health of the food we consume as humans directly impacts our health. Eating unhealthy animals ultimately makes us unhealthy as well. As a wife and mom of three, it is extremely important to me to feed my family with the highest quality meats. But, it was only after I educated myself on the importance of eating these high quality meats and the detriments caused by conventionally raised meats that this became my priority.
I’ve been buying and consuming conventionally raised meats for most of my life, like most Americans. I just didn’t know the difference. I didn’t know there was a better option. That’s the problem. We, as consumers, need to educate ourselves on what we are buying and supporting as a result. That’s what I’m here to do for you. I want to give you a simple guide on how to choose better quality meats and what all of those fancy labels actually mean.
Let’s start with beef…
97% of the beef being sold in the United States has been conventionally raised.
This means the cows are being fed a grain-based diet and being prepared in feedlots. Feedlots are the small areas where the cows are processed to fatten them up. Because these areas are so small and crowded, disease spreads quickly. To prevent this spread of disease the cows are given antibiotics. Previously, antibiotics were also given to the cows to promote growth, but the FDA has now banned the use of antibiotics for this use. But nonetheless, antibiotics are still being administered to combat the spread of disease among the cattle. This widespread use of antibiotics is leading to the development of “super bugs”. “Super bugs” are those infections in humans that have emerged and are resistant to traditional antibiotics. Have you ever heard of MRSA, VRE, or C. Diff? These are common examples of resistant infections we are now having to treat. And they are much more difficult to treat.
Along with being given antibiotics, the conventionally raised cows are being given growth hormones to promote weight gain and being fed with fillers such as corn, soy, and animal by-products. What’s wrong with feeding the cows grains, you ask? Cows’ digestive tracts are not designed to eat grains. They are given grains because it makes them fatter faster. (Hmm…I wonder what grains do to humans…) Although it may not produce fast results, cows are biologically designed to consume grass.
So what should we look for when purchasing beef?
Ideally we want to look for organic, pasture-raised, grass fed, grass finished beef. I know what you’re thinking. I’m about to break it all down for you.
When you see the label “organic“, this means that the diet they’ve been fed is organic (grass or grains) and has been grown without the use of any synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
When you find “pasture-raised” beef, think cows grazing in a field. But there is a small problem that is starting to arise. Farmers have caught onto the “grass fed” craze. They are responding by simply moving the feedlots to the pasture. The cows are being fed grass, but are still confined in small spaces. So we really want to be looking for the pasture raised beef to be sure they’ve had access to roam and graze outdoors. It is not only beneficial to the cows and us, the consumers, but to the soil as well!
There are many times you will find grass fed beef but if you look close enough you’ll find the words “grain finished” in tiny letters. This means that the cow was fed grass, but in the last few months of it’s life was fed grains (to fatten it up). So be aware of this when shopping for your beef! Those tricksters!
Remember: Organic, Pasture Raised, Grass Fed, Grass Finished Beef!
“The other white meat” right?…Wrong! I’ll tell you why. This slogan became popular in the 1980’s along with the whole “fat-free” craze. Farmers started breeding all of the fat from the pigs to keep up with the hype. Then we ended up with what we normally think of when we hear “pork chop”. White meat that’s so dry you need to slather it in barbecue sauce and have a glass of water nearby just to get it down. But that’s not how pork is supposed to be! Ideally the pork is marbled with fat throughout to make it perfectly juicy and flavorful. And did you know that good pork should actually be red inside once it’s cooked?…not white.
When purchasing pork you want to be sure you are looking for pigs who were raised well. If you can’t find pasture-raised, then look for a certified humane seal. Most pigs are raised conventionally in small stalls. The inhumane treatment they endure ultimately leads to stress and impacts their meat. Pigs differ from cows in that they can digest corn and soy, so feeders are brought out into the fields for the pasture-raised pigs to consume along with the grass. If you can find it, hertitage breed pork is a great option!
Remember when choosing pork: Pasture Raised, Certified Humane Seal, free of antibiotics and hormones.
We Can’t Forget Chicken!
There can be a lot of confusing labels associated with chicken. Let’s dive in and make it easier to understand!
Conventionally raised chickens are typically raised in hen houses, which are dark, crowded spaces, and have very limited access to the outdoors. Here’s where the antibiotic issue come into play again.
There is such thing as pasture-raised chicken. This means they live their entire life in the field. These birds tend to be slightly smaller, have tougher legs, and taste gamier than the chicken you’re probably used to. If you decide to buy pasture-raised chicken, it may be beneficial to roast the whole bird in a slow, moist cooking environment.
The next level under pasture-raised would be free range, organic. Free range implies the chickens have had access to the outdoors and organic means the grain that they’ve been fed were organic and free of GMO (genetically modified organisms). Also be sure to look for a humane certification. This ensures that the chickens have had plenty of access outdoors, there was less density in the hen houses, and the slaughtering process was more humane.
With chicken, the more labels the better. If you’re not buying pasture raised, then look for free range, organic, and antibiotic free, with a humane certification.
Fun fact: You may see the label “hormone free” on chicken in the grocery store. Giving chickens hormones has been banned by the FDA for the past 50 years, so this is just a marketing gimmick.
Hopefully this gives you a whole new perspective and a little more understanding on the meat you’ve been buying and consuming. The typical conventionally raised animal who is stuck in confined spaces, fed corn and grains, and given antibiotics and hormones are therefore more inflammatory in nature. The toxins are concentrated in the fat of these animals then transferred to us as we consume them. If you absolutely have to buy conventionally raised meat for one reason or another, buy lean cuts or trim the fat.
You may be wondering where you can find better quality meats…
It may be more difficult to find quality meats in your typical grocery store, and if you can, they are going to be more expensive than the conventionally raised meats. Specialty food stores such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are where I typically have purchased my meats. You can usually find a small section with quality meats in your average grocery store as well, although they may not have as much of a selection.
Another option, and what I use now, is Butcher Box. If you’ve never heard of this company I’ll tell you a little about them. They are a monthly subscription-based service that delivers the best quality meats right to your door. Their story and mission is incredible and I love that I can trust their products 100%. When you subscribe, you are able to choose between two different sized boxes depending on the amount of people you are feeding. Then you can choose what kind of meat you’d like in your box (beef, chicken, pork, or a combination). That’s it! The box comes to your door monthly and you can rest assured you are getting the highest quality meats! And you can truly taste the difference!
If you think you’d like to try Butcher Box click here to receive 2 FREE Filet Mignons, FREE bacon, and $10 off your order. Plus you’ll be supporting me, which is greatly appreciated! Try it! If you aren’t satisfied you can cancel your subscription at any time. I try to be as budget conscious as possible when grocery shopping, and I’ve done the math. Butcher Box is not only saving me money on my groceries every month, but also saving me time with their amazing convenience.
I hope this post helped! Happy meat shopping!